When you have a dog at home, your dog’s schedule naturally becomes a part of your own schedule. Dog owners often rush home after a day of work to let their dogs out, plan outings and nights out to fit inside a certain time window, and excuse themselves from social events with the phrase, “We better get home so we can let the dogs out.”
But even when dog owners plan their schedules to avoid leaving their dogs alone for too long, almost everyone has busy schedules with work, family, and friends. When an unexpected event comes up, you may find yourself having to leave your dog alone for longer than you expected.
Understanding How Long Dogs Can Be Alone
Dogs need to have their needs met throughout the day. This includes a chance to go to the bathroom, regular feedings, individual attention, and mental and physical stimulation. Age, activity level, and breed can influence the schedule, but in general, this is how long your dog can be alone according to each of these different factors:
- Potty Breaks - Your dog will need to have a chance to go to the bathroom every few hours. For puppies, the usual rule for how many hours between bathroom breaks is their age in months plus 1, so a 2 month old puppy could theoretically go 3 hours without a bathroom break. Adult dogs can often go 6 hours, and senior dogs are usually comfortable for 2 to 4 hours. All these numbers are also highly dependent on your dog and her training. Leaving your dog alone for extended periods can result in health issues like urinary tract infections, accidents in the house, and discomfort for your dog.
- Feeding and Medication - Most dogs eat 2 to 3 times a day. This can be easier to work around your schedule, but if you are going to be missing a feeding or medication time, you will want to have someone you trust be able to provide food. Leaving a bowl of food out for a long period of time is not recommended for dogs regardless of their eating habits.
- Stimulation, Exercise, and Attention - Although most dogs enjoy plenty of naps throughout the day, they still need exercise and time to work out their minds with walks, fetch, toys, and training sessions. Too long without the stimulation can result in destructive behaviors, separation anxiety, and contribute to making your dog restless. While your dog may be able to go up to eight hours alone, they will start to get bored. Additionally, if your dog is secured in a crate while you are gone, it is best to limit absences to four to six hours so that they do not go too long without having space to stretch.
With these guidelines, potty breaks are the most limiting factor in how long you can reasonably leave your dog alone. Fortunately, a potty break can also offer an opportunity for attention, physical exercise, and play time, meeting all your dog's needs at once. When you simply cannot be home for your dog every 4 to 6 hours, or more for younger dogs, trusting your dog's care to daycare or a local dog walking company will make sure that your dog is never alone for too long.